Things That Don’t Belong in the Game

Jonathan Willis
March 16 2009 01:05PM

Last night, in a game between the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Rangers, Braydon Coburn cross-checked Nikolai Antropov in the head (h/t to Puck Daddy).

Asked about a possible suspension, Flyers coach John Stevens said this:

“I would hope not. I asked him what happened and he thought he hit him more with his glove than anything else."

Obviously, Stevens isn’t going to hang his player out to dry. Out of curiosity, though, what’s the difference between that play and the hit by Jesse Boulerice on Ryan Kesler? Both hits were cross-checks to the head, both were well away from the play, and both featured a Philadelphia Flyer retaliating against a player that had aggravated him earlier in the game (Antropov high-sticked Coburn, Kesler hooked and slashed Boulerice).

The obvious difference, of course, is the name of the player involved. We’ve seen the NHL’s double-standard at work repeatedly over the years (the best example probably being the suspensions handed out to Chris Simon and Chris Pronger for similar incidents).

It’s been a funny month for the NHL – the thirty G.M.’s recommended a rule change that would crack down on fighting, and certain people in the hockey world feel that it should be taken out of the game entirely. Meanwhile, Paul Kelly and the NHLPA submitted a proposal that would see shoulder checks to the head penalized; the objective being to prevent “clean” hits like the one that sidelined Brandon Sutter.

Does anyone else find it odd that two plays that have been a legitimate part of hockey for years are seeing movements to curtail them, but at the same time it seems like we have a stick to the head incident at least once a season? Aside from the Flyers incident above, there was Alexander Perezhogin’s hit on Garrett Stafford, and Chris Simon’s slash on Ryan Hollweg. It’s only a matter of time before one of these incidents kills or seriously injures somebody – and the worst part of it is, these aren’t hockey plays, these are assaults. Admittedly, the Coburn incident isn’t as brutal as some of these others, but he’s still using his stick to hit a guy in the head far away from the puck.

It isn’t a play that should be tolerated in any of its forms. The NHL has removed non-hockey plays from the game with harsh disciplinary rules before – things like contact with the referee, line brawls and the like have been completely eliminated from the game. In my opinion, intentionally hitting a guy in the head with a stick should fall into that category as well, and I think the best way to do it is obvious. Institute a new rule this summer, with a mandatory suspension for those sorts of plays. Make it a career damaging suspension – at least 25 games, possibly as long as 82 games.

There isn’t any place in hockey for players who hit people in the head with their stick. At least, there shouldn’t be.

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Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#1 dw
March 16 2009, 01:19PM
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Don't get me wrong, I am not defending Coburn's actions, but if you watch the replay Antropov clearly fakes at Coburn as if he is going to hit him. Coburn reacts and gets his stick up but barely contacts Antropov before he drops to the ice like he was shot. If he had actually made serious contact with Antropov's head you would have seen his head move more than it did. This was more a case of "bait and dive" than Boulerice on Kesler.

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#2 Rick
March 16 2009, 01:24PM
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Obviously there is no room in the game for hitting people in the head with their sticks so there isn't much of a discussion there.

I do take issue with trying to introduce yet another new rule to address such a thing. There are always unintended consequences with this stuff and the game suffers as a result.

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#3 Quinn
March 16 2009, 01:24PM
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Let me be the first to use the phrase 'pansification'. Not that I think it has any place in this discussion, but I'm sure it will come up as a way to demean the point that over the top aggression belongs in the game. Despite the fact that it annually injures star/role players and elevates the importance of a Tootoo or Avery or another goon and lets them know they are an integral part of the game.

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#4 Quinn
March 16 2009, 01:27PM
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SorrQuinn wrote:

Let me be the first to use the phrase ‘pansification’. Not that I think it has any place in this discussion, but I’m sure it will come up as a way to demean the point that over the top aggression belongs in the game. Sorry, that should read, 'demean opposition to the point that over the top aggression belongs in the game.' Sheesh
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#5 Jonathan Willis
March 16 2009, 01:29PM
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dw wrote:

I am not defending Coburn’s actions, but if you watch the replay Antropov clearly fakes at Coburn as if he is going to hit him. Coburn reacts and gets his stick up but barely contacts Antropov before he drops to the ice like he was shot.

Yeah, and I'm not trying to defend Antropov here. In most of these cases, the player who gets hit did something nasty beforehand too, which always seems to cloud the issue.

Also, what actually transpired here isn't as bad as these other incidents, but I do think it's something that needs to be eliminated.

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#6 Jonathan Willis
March 16 2009, 01:30PM
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Rick wrote:

Obviously there is no room in the game for hitting people in the head with their sticks so there isn’t much of a discussion there. I do take issue with trying to introduce yet another new rule to address such a thing. There are always unintended consequences with this stuff and the game suffers as a result.

Out of curiousity: how would you address it? Personally, I'd like to see Campbell take it into his own hands to make suspensions for these kinds of incidents heavier, but he's shown an inability to do it over the years.

Also, what negative consequences do you see taking place?

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#7 Jack "FMNF" Bauer
March 16 2009, 01:30PM
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Ive always said this league is 100% gutless in eliminating the kind of stuff htat would land a regular person in jail for 5 years. Any league that still allows Todd Bertuzzi to play and make millions is run by idiots. Lets take Colin Campbell's kid and put him on the ice against a Hollweg, Bertuzzi, Gauthier or the numerous other piles of scum this league is littered with. Let his kid go against them and see how he enjoys taking a stick to the head or a shoulder to his jaw.

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#8 Jack "FMNF" Bauer
March 16 2009, 01:31PM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

Easy. 50 game suspensions. Season long bans. You break your stick over the head of a player. 75 games. Its easy.

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#9 Rick
March 16 2009, 01:45PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Out of curiousity: how would you address it? Personally, I’d like to see Campbell take it into his own hands to make suspensions for these kinds of incidents heavier, but he’s shown an inability to do it over the years. Also, what negative consequences do you see taking place?

To be perfectly honest it is tough to say. I think the game has been micro managed down a slippery slope that is getting tougher and tougher to correct.

It sounds overly simple and neanderthal to trott out the old reliable mantra of recinding the instigator rule but at the base of it all I think it boils down to respect for the game. It's lacking.

There is also the simple adage that the rules already exist and how they call it or tack on supplemental dicipline is all that needs reviewing.

The more rules you make or adjust the more you take the natural respect factor out of the players concience.

As for consequences, players always tend to find a way to perverse new rules.

Whether it happened in this case or not DW's description is a good example of the direction it could go.

Other examples from the past is the crack down on hits from behind which lead to players turning their back oto the play along the boards. The automatic 4 minute highstick if you draw blood and guys immediately started biting their lip.

I know this is moving beyond your topic but take the so called new fighting rules that are proposed and think back to what happened to Penner last week. How long before guys start to figure out that they can forego the 2, 5 and 10 by standing up for their teammate and simply run a guy for 2 minutes interference just like Exelby got for his cheap shot on Hemsky. Progress? Not in my eyes.

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#10 OilW30
March 16 2009, 01:45PM
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Wasn't this a retaliation for Antropov swinging his stick at Coburn's head earlier in the game?

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#11 Bob Cob
March 16 2009, 01:48PM
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The easiest way, in my opinion, to slove the problem of head shots and other cheap acts is to get rid of the instigator rule. Let the players police themselves like they used to.

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#12 ryanbatty
March 16 2009, 01:51PM
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Whether the outcome in this case is bad or not isn't the point really. The intent was there and it's the act shouldn't be punished not the outcome. If you go at a guys head with your stick you deserve a stiff penalty. Half a season for a first offense, more severe after that, would be fine with me.

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#13 Jonathan Willis
March 16 2009, 01:55PM
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ryanbatty wrote:

Whether the outcome in this case is bad or not isn’t the point really. The intent was there and it’s the act shouldn’t be punished not the outcome. If you go at a guys head with your stick you deserve a stiff penalty.

That's my feeling too. Todd Bertuzzi, for example, got nailed because of his blatant and ugly attempt to injure Steve Moore, but was that really any worse than other incidents that don't see that kind of suspension? Too often suspension length is determined by severity of injury.

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#14 Jonathan Willis
March 16 2009, 01:56PM
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@ Rick:

I share your thoughts on the instigator rule, but some of these rule changes have been for the better - for example, the automatic suspension for leaving the bench has ended those bench-clearing brawls that occured so frequently thirty years ago.

I'd just prefer something ironclad to the Colin Campbell Wheel of Justice the league currently uses.

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#15 OilW30
March 16 2009, 02:08PM
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Yeah, if you watch the game recap on tsn.ca, they point out that Antropov swiped at Coburn's face earlier, so I say suspend them both.

What I don't get is why didn't anyone pummel Antropov on Coburn's behalf?

It seems like too many guys are getting away with stuff because their teammates don't stick up for them--and that probably has something to do with the instigator penalty.

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#16 Cory Dakin
March 16 2009, 02:15PM
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Unfortunately with the league finding ways to drive out the enforcers, it seems to be bringing in a breed of goons. Here I thought the plan was to weed out enforcers to bring more skill to the game. So, if successful in banning fighting, the league would officially make more roster spots available to dirty players, not skilled players.

These cheap plays have always been there, but the league is setting themselves up to see more of them. They certainly can't push fighting out of the game on the back of their weak and flawed disciplinary system. IMO anyway.

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#17 Deep Oil
March 16 2009, 02:17PM
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Quinn wrote:

Let me be the first to use the phrase ‘pansification’. Not that I think it has any place in this discussion, but I’m sure it will come up as a way to demean the point that over the top aggression belongs in the game. Despite the fact that it annually injures star/role players and elevates the importance of a Tootoo or Avery or another goon and lets them know they are an integral part of the game.

I didn't know that Mike Milbury was writing under the assumed name of Quinn.... let me be the first to say... the word is now whimpification due to the gay rights objection on our open minded and publicly funded CBC.

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#18 Rick
March 16 2009, 02:20PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ Rick: I share your thoughts on the instigator rule, but some of these rule changes have been for the better - for example, the automatic suspension for leaving the bench has ended those bench-clearing brawls that occured so frequently thirty years ago.

They are not all misses and in that case anyways the consequences are set and actions are definative.

It's the tweaking and interpretation and punishment based on the interpretation that is tough to stomach.

In many cases it's like a swinging pendelum and the league can't find the middle. Take hooking, ten years ago you could ski behind a player and get nothing, now if you get a stick horizontal on a player it's called.

The trouble is that's not hooking, that's not what the rule is trying to prevent.

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#19 Deep Oil
March 16 2009, 02:22PM
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Cory Dakin wrote:

Unfortunately with the league finding ways to drive out the enforcers, it seems to be bringing in a breed of goons. Here I thought the plan was to weed out enforcers to bring more skill to the game. So, if successful in banning fighting, the league would officially make more roster spots available to dirty players, not skilled players. These cheap plays have always been there, but the league is setting themselves up to see more of them. They certainly can’t push fighting out of the game on the back of their weak and flawed disciplinary system. IMO anyway.

minor (instigator), major(fighting) and 10 minute misconduct will hopefully reduce the dumb reaction to fighting for a clean hit.... Glenn Healy was on hochey central / fan590 objecting to Mike Milbury's comments in regards to the competition committee enforcing existing rules rather than passing it by the committee and circumventing the GM's actions. Healy joked that he has been a GM for the last 15 years..... he just didn't know it...

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#20 Rick
March 16 2009, 02:22PM
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Cory Dakin wrote:

Unfortunately with the league finding ways to drive out the enforcers, it seems to be bringing in a breed of goons.

Are todays enforcers actually enforcers though?

I fall firmly on the side of wanting fighting to remain in the game but I can't really recall a time outside the last 6 or so years when an enforcers role was to skate out to the faceoff circle to drop the gloves and give the fans what they want.

Maybe my memory just isn't that great.

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#21 Chris
March 16 2009, 02:24PM
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This head-shot/respect thing is NOT a new issue. We are only a few days past the 44th anniverasry of the famous Rocket Richard incident, suspension, and subsequent Montreal riots. Richard was high sticked in the head by Boston's Hal Laycoe, but play continued on the delay penalty. Richard skated over to Laycoe, faked Laycoe into dropping his gloves, and then Richard used his stick to repeatedly hit Laycoe in the face, head, and shoulders. Laycoe suffered a severe concussion and Richard was suspended for the season and playoffs. Richard, however, was NOT suspended for his attack on Laycoe... Richard was suspended for repeatedly punching an official in the face, knocking said official unconscious during the melee that followed the brutal assault on Laycoe.

I hate this, "Players-Today-Lack-Respect" argument. Players today, probably have more respect for each other now than at any point in hockey's history. These incidents appear more frequent thanks to the sheer numbers of games, and the amount of available coverage.

I'm not in favor of head-shots... I'm just trying to lend some historical perspective.

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#22 Chris
March 16 2009, 02:26PM
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Chris wrote:

We are only a few days past the 44th anniverasry of the famous Rocket Richard incident, suspension, and subsequent Montreal riots

Make that the 54th anniversary.

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#23 Rick
March 16 2009, 02:43PM
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@ Chris:

Picking an example here or there doesn't change anything. It's a fools paradise to ever think that things will be perfect or incidents won't occur.

It's not about the once a year incidents or in your example every 54+ years.

I would also debate your suggestion that players today have more respect for each other. Maybe in some ways they do, maybe in some of the ways they carry out their actions it may appear that way but I as times change so do the methods in which respect or lack of respect is shown.

Personally I think the game has become cheapened and that isn't just in regards to physical play or incidents that make the news.

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#24 reijo29
March 16 2009, 02:52PM
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JW - What are your thoughts on Corey Perry's Crosscheck to the back of Nabokov's leg last night? Seemed to me like a pretty obvious attempt to injure. Yet no penalty or talk of suspension from what I have heard?

Nabokov just back from "Lower Body Injury".

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#25 Joey Moss
March 16 2009, 03:01PM
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the slowed down bit at the end reminds me of the Drunk Jeff Goldblum

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQmK1CnwOUI

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#26 Quinn
March 16 2009, 03:17PM
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Deep Oil wrote:

Quinn wrote: Let me be the first to use the phrase ‘pansification’. Not that I think it has any place in this discussion, but I’m sure it will come up as a way to demean the point that over the top aggression belongs in the game. Despite the fact that it annually injures star/role players and elevates the importance of a Tootoo or Avery or another goon and lets them know they are an integral part of the game. I didn’t know that Mike Milbury was writing under the assumed name of Quinn…. let me be the first to say… the word is now whimpification due to the gay rights objection on our open minded and publicly funded CBC.

Deep, that is the first time I have been insulted quite like that! My meaning was some I thought some knuckle-dragger was going to come on and blame the victim/call for dropping the instigator/increase fighting as a solution to all of the NHL's woes. I am not in favour of these things, I am in favour of tough fines and driving out the marginal players (like Avery, like Tootoo, Hollweg, etc.)

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#27 Jonathan Willis
March 16 2009, 03:20PM
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@ reijo29:

The same as my thoughts on Perry in general - he's a cheap little weasel and one of the players I most dislike in the entire league.

That Puck Daddy article I linked suggested that Nabokov might be the one in trouble though - Perry accused Nabokov of kicking him with his skate.

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#28 Jonathan Willis
March 16 2009, 03:21PM
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@ Quinn:

It's okay, I think most of us knew what you meant. You were mocking Milbury, not aping him.

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#29 Librarian Mike
March 16 2009, 03:32PM
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I know exactly what will happen if the NHL decides to get rid of fighting in hockey, and succeeds. Nothing. People will still watch hockey and it will be just as fun as it always is. It's like all those people who, during the lockout, vowed never to spend another dollar on the Oilers. They all came back then, and even though they'll whine about how 'soft' the game has become they'll still watch.

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#30 Chris
March 16 2009, 03:47PM
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@ Rick: I've watched hockey for 30 years. I've seen some crazy sh!T... My memory may not be perfect, but my gut tells me that there has been less intent to injure since the lockout. Spearings, kickings, headbuttings, line brawls, cross-checks to the face, boarding incidents, you name it: are WAAAAAY down. Conversely, the coverage of these incidents, the level of public outrage, and the awarness of the consequence of head injuries are WAAAAY up. I watched Bryan Marchment break THREE legs in one season. I saw Steve Smith spear Carey Wilson, who lost his spleen and nearly died...(Smith was never even suspended). Three or four players EVERY GAME were boarded chasing an iced puck. Cross-checks to the head in front of the net were so common, in the eighties, no-one even mentioned them... I don't know what the stats sheets say, but "old-time-hockey" was a WAR. Based on what I had seen over the years, it was hard for me to be too outraged at the McSorely/Brashear incident, or the Bertuzzi/Moore incident. Now, after years of watching post-lockout hockey, when I U-tube these episodes I DO feel outrage; and I am disgusted by my previous mindset.

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#31 Rick
March 16 2009, 04:07PM
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@ Chris: Well I am not going to debate your memory even though I think it is embelished.

As I alluded earlier there is no misunderstanding that the game was perfect 20, 30 or how ever many years ago. That isn't what I am going for.

Although the methods have evolved there is no doubt, in my mind anyways, that players are just as eager to inflict damage today as they have been at any times. They're just less blatant in most cases.

Now the respect that I speak of goes beyond respect between players and is in regards to the game itself. All these tweaks and adjustments have and will continue to result in a new kind of rat that uses the various crackdowns to draw the phantom calls and or stage a situation that embelishes the play. That doesn't make the game more enjoyable or better from any integrity standpoint.

And no that isn't suggesting that guys didn't do it in the past, it's the degree that of which guys are doing it that has become so engrained that we now accept it as part of the game. It's bushleague, particularily when guys still try to talk about playing the game with some sort of honour.

So given that incidents will always occur, the question becomes is it better to have incidents with reprocussions on the ice or incidents along with all the tweaking and unintended consequences that come with it.

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#32 Chris
March 16 2009, 05:10PM
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@ Rick: I believe the game has, and will, continue to evolve naturally. I believe league interference has limited effect on this natural evolution. There isn't much of a public appetite for the Broadstreet Bully brand of hockey that was so prevelent in the 70's and 80's... Things that use to regularly happen, are simply no longer tolerated. Injuries, penalties, etc aren't good yardsticks to use when measuring relative aggression... Let's consider attitude: Players used to play with HATE for the opposition. (Read some archived interviews by Gordie Howe, or Bobby Clarke) As time passed, a guy like Messier, would be described as a player who, "hates to lose." Today, hate is a word that is never used. Thanks to modern media, players know that a single indescretion will live forever, readily available, on the internet. Players today also know that they embarrass; rather than impress, their own organization and fans when they get involved in some of the sheanigans that was once commonplace. Do players have more respect for the game and each other? Probably not; but they sure do respect the potential consequences of illegally ending someone's career.

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#33 rickithebear
March 16 2009, 08:37PM
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To this day I am still pissed Stafford did not get the same penalty as Perezoghin. Yeah I know he could have killed you Alex! Yeah I know the intent was the same. But we are going to suspend you because you proved europeans are more acurate with the stick. Thats why we are suspending you. You turned a visious boy into a P****.

I played a sport were I dished it out but expected to get it back and I did. Don't play a style you can not protect yourself from. Point. Keep your head on a swivel.

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#34 rickithebear
March 16 2009, 08:43PM
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Of all the people who deserved there shot it was Hollweg. That diving act was a disgrace to the league. Heck I bet Holweggs old man beat him more.

Ps: these last two comments were desgned to reflect the quality and integrity of the leagues decisions.

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#35 MikeP
March 17 2009, 10:02AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Too often suspension length is determined by severity of injury.

What's wrong with that? It's good enough for the rest of society.

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#36 Wej
March 17 2009, 10:53AM
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It's simple. The NHL is bush league.

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